An attitude doesn’t exist in isolation; it is an attitude towards 'something', which can be a particular object or person, or just life in general. An attitude comes from beliefs, values and feelings and is expressed in actions. The attitude towards something in the immediate situation comes from beliefs, values and feelings about that particular thing, from whatever else is happening in the person’s life right now; and from the person’s deep-seated beliefs, values and feelings about life in general. Attitude is therefore complex.
It seemed to me that the builder was referring to two attitudes. One was the attitude towards the quality of the work and the other was the attitude towards authority. In the early 1990s, the workplace adopted what was called Competency-based Training. To obtain a job, prospective workers needed a certificate that verified they were competent in that role. To get the certificate they had to be deemed to have the skills, knowledge and attitude to perform certain tasks in a range of circumstances.
Training organisations developed programs that detailed exactly what skills, knowledge and attitudes to pass on so the students got the certificate. It all looked great on paper but there was a major problem. It’s relatively easy to teach someone of average intelligence the skills and knowledge needed to do a job, but it’s impossible to teach attitude. We can teach about attitude but a person’s attitude develops from within, and attitude determines the quality of what we do, whether the task is to join two pieces of wood or establish a relationship.
Part of the problem is that skills and knowledge are directly related to the task at hand but attitude is a combination of general beliefs, values and feelings. A person can have the skills and knowledge to produce quality results but has a toothache, or is running late for an appointment and can’t be bothered about quality.
Culture is a major factor in regard to performing a task and may greatly affect the quality of the outcome. A person may have the skills, knowledge, and desire to do something well, but this may not be enough to overcome deeply held beliefs and values pulling them in a different direction. No matter what position a person holds and no matter how competent that person normally is, deeply held beliefs, values and feelings can suddenly surface and affect the quality of work or relationships.
Broadly speaking, quality outcomes are either motivated by the desire to gain external rewards or internal rewards. The first could be called a strategy for a purpose, and the second could be called a spiritual necessity: material gain versus a sense of satisfaction and pride from a job well done, and this increases self-esteem.
Most people act from either of those motivations, depending on the situation. However, the emphasis in the work situation seems to favour attitude as a strategy for achieving a goal. Being polite and helpful in discussing differences then reflects beliefs and values about money or keeping a job, rather than caring about people or relationships. Being polite and helpful may quickly cease and the people involved can become embroiled in a bitter conflict over a relatively small matter. However, if the politeness and helpfulness was reflecting deeply held beliefs and values about human relationships, there would be little chance of disputes getting out of hand. Winning a point is then less important than having a good relationship with other workers.
Photo: Replica submarine in South Australia.